Purdue Honors seminar's National Security Garden exhibit is a conversation starter

May 9, 2013  

National Security Garden

The National Security Garden, lit by the LED lights, glows every night for four hours. (Purdue University photo / Shannon C. McMullen)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Despite cooler temperatures than normal, the Purdue Honors freshman seminar (HONRS199) National Security Garden is already boasting foot-high soy plants. 

Since late April, the garden's solar panels have charged the LED lights that glow from 8:45 p.m. to 1 a.m. The lights highlight the artistic side of the project, turning the garden into an exhibit.

The installation, located outside of Elliott Hall of Music, is a semester-long project for one of Purdue's new Honors College classes. Guided by assistant professor Shannon McMullen and associate professor Fabian Winkler, who brought the idea to the class after leading a similar project in Germany, the group built the boxes, planted the edamame soybeans and has monitored their growth throughout the last few months.

But the project's real purpose, like most pieces of art, is to start a conversation. The class has discussed issues of national security, plant science, crop science and the use of genetically modified organisms, all of which are captured in the soybean plant. 

An exhibition documenting the project's progress, from construction to harvest, is showing in the Ringel Gallery in Stewart Center through July 12. 

"The gallery exhibition uses artistic strategies to show the numerous ways that soybeans relate to disciplines and majors across all colleges on campus, from biomedical engineering to law and society," McMullen said. "It causes viewers to consider the pervasive presence of soy within everyday life in the U.S. through its connections to food production, consumption and local history."

The exhibition includes video of the construction and installation, presentations of soybeans, commonality in everyday food and documentation of how each student involved in the inter-disciplinary project related it to their area of study.  

The class has removed the greenhouse cover so that passersby have easier access to the project.

"Professor Winkler and I have been very pleased with the reception that we and the students have had at the Elliot Hall location," McMullen said. "Students, staff, faculty and community members regularly stop and engage us in conversation about the project."  

The group hopes that by mid-June, the soybeans will be ready for harvest.

In 2011, Purdue's Board of Trustees approved the establishment of an Honors College to promote "diverse thinking and integrated solutions to society's complex problems." The college allows those from multiple disciplines to work together on a student-lead method of learning. The freshmen in the fall of 2012 were the first group of students to be admitted to the college.  Admittance is by invitation only and students must maintain a 3.6 GPA to remain in the program 

Writer: Morgan Stephens, 765-490-4855, MorganLStephens@gmail.com

Sources: Shannon McMullen, 765-494-0160, smcmullen@purdue.edu

Fabian Winkler, 765-494-1060, fwinkler@purdue.edu 

Michael Brannigan, mbranni@purdue.edu 

Related websites:

Electronic and Time Based Art

Purdue Honors College Guiding Principles (pdf)

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